Comforting Places In Our Lives

Wailua is a special place for the Kaua‘i-born author. Ron Mizutani photo

We all have a special place in our lives where we turn to find comfort. That special place for me has always been the island of Kauai.

It starts with a drive to Kalapaki Beach near Nawiliwili Harbor. Staring at the shore break near the famous (now infamous) Pine Tree Inn, takes me back to my “small kid summer days,” when the boys and I would sneak past hotel security and jump in the swimming pool at the old Kaua’i Surf. It was a daily game for us because the pool was reserved for hotel guests. Whoever hid from lifeguards the longest was the winner. The lifeguards and hotel security were never amused, and usually would kick us out of the pool and usher us back to the ocean within minutes. We’d laugh and do it all over again the following day. These were special times and are still comforting memories.

Another place that gives me that same warm sensation deep in my belly is Wailua Beach directly across from world-famous Coco Palms. It was here, in 1975, where I got my first surf lesson from my Uncle George Costa. I’ll never forget his patience, that old red surfboard and the feeling of accomplishment when I caught my first wave. More comforting memories from “small kid time.”

I recently returned to Kaua’i and felt a strong need to refocus and re-energize, and I knew exactly where I needed to go. Kalapaki Beach was as beautiful as ever, and it didn’t take long for me go back in time. As I stood alone on the seawall and watched the waves crash against the rocks, I thought about the good old days when Grandma would teach my sister and me how to pick opihi while she shared the rules of the sea.

“Never turn your back on the ocean and take only what we need,” she would say with kindness, yet authority. “Think about the next family. Think about tomorrow.”

Valuable life lessons that I now preach to my children.

I didn’t see any opihi that morning, but the sweet memory was just what I needed.

From there, I drove east toward Wailua and asked my family if I could make a quick stop just past Wailua River. I jumped out of the car and stared at the surf and smiled. I looked back at my wife and told her, “This is where I learned to surf, right here.” She laughed quietly. I knew she had heard this same story about a million times, but she allowed me to have my moment. She knew it was important.

I closed my eyes and saw a 10-year-old boy struggling to stand, yet refusing to give up. After more than a dozen falls, he gets to his feet. I persevered that day in 1975 and fell in love with the sport of surfing. It was a day that helped shape my life. Another life lesson learned in the ocean.

The memory was just what I needed. It’s funny how these special places still have a great effect on my life even after 47 years. We all have them. Some of us are lured to the ocean, others find comfort on hiking trails, baseball fields, race tracks or even a barn. Whatever or wherever your special place is, embrace it and find ways to escape to it as often as possible. You’ll find that life’s frantic pace instantly slows.

Childhood memories can be very healing.